Quality – An Aid to Produce Consistent  Rubbish?

Another year has passed, and myself and a colleague have hosted a BSI auditor for our annual ISO9001/TickITplus check-up, and in fact this was more than the regular check, in that it was our 3-year re-certification audit, the biggie!

So why do we do it!? Why spend the time, effort and money on it? ‘Because it is what our customers expect’, true, but our processes and procedures go beyond what is required for the standard. The actual reason is simple, it makes us better, and has helped us improve as a business over the years and benefit from increased cost effectiveness by doing things right, first time.

In the beginning Zircon was process-less, but that was day 1. Not long after that, Zircon underwent one of its first strategic initiatives, the creation and adaptation of a TickIT/ISO 9001 quality system. Our first Quality Manager achieved an amazing feat by getting this in place and accredited in less than a year! And this was not a system we bought in, this is one that was developed and tailor-made for the business. Over the years we have built on this, though our policy of continuous improvement and innovation in how we work, and it has continued to serve us well, but will never stop moving forwards. We were also one of the first companies to achieve accreditation for both ISO9001:2015 and TickITplus.

But quality, it is just ticking boxes, right?! Sadly, in our industry I have seen that a lot. Engineers jumping through hoops just to satisfy an auditor/approver. Often the organisations with this attitude are finishing the ‘work’ (and it has usually been a painful journey…), and then going back and ‘tidying up’! As a Quality Manager (and a director of the business), the idea of ‘tidying up’ is one that makes me angry! The systems and process are designed to be efficient and effective if they are followed in the defined order, often going back and fixing things leads to little benefit, other than pulling a fast one over the auditor. Doing it like this is also a sure way to make it feel like ticking boxes to all those involved. You also get the downsides of people reinventing the wheel all over the place, things being missed till much later in the process and the additional cost of people struggling with it.

Quality Systems are not a one-size fits all, they need to be developed and continuously evolved to meet the changing needs of the individual business and to be improved through learning and reflection on how to do things better. The Processes need to be efficient and effective and not be endless red-tape.

But how do you drive this improvement? There are two main ways, the first it to look at the things that go wrong. At Zircon we call them incidents, these can be quality deficiencies, complaints, or faults. When one of these occurs, we first look to correct the issue, but then we take a step back and identify the root cause. Doing this allows us to look for opportunities for improvement, we refer to this as preventative actions. The application of these is monitored over a period of time to ensure that we are achieving the benefits of the change.

The second source of improvement comes from the staff themselves. It is important that every member of staff is encouraged to carry out reflective practice, looking for ways we can do things better. In fact this is one of the core values of the company, innovation. They are best placed to eliminate waste, by identify the red-tape, and inefficiencies in the work they are doing and have the best to offer in terms of ways they can work better. This practice also helps to reinforce the importance of the processes, so you get a double whammy!

And then you have the external audits themselves, be it by accreditor or customer. These are great opportunities for someone outside the business to take a look at what you are doing and give feedback and a different perspective, and often details about how other organisations are doing things. I have never failed to learn something from an external audit.

So how did our audit go? Not bad at all, we had 4 minor non-conformities, all of which are very much ways for us to improve as a business! The identification of these makes it more than worth sitting through the audit! I look forward to more next year!